Herman Merkel is a third generation farmer with a cattle operation near Bourbon, Mo. His grandfather ran it as a dairy farm, and his father kept a feedlot in town. Herman runs a calf-cow operation, breeding and grazing calves until they top 500 pounds and can be sold to another operation where they’re raised to full weight. Merkel is 62 years old. “It’s what I do full-time, and it’s what I’ve been doing for 40 years,” he said.
As steward of the family business and the family land, Merkel has more than a passing interest in protecting both. He has worked with local conservation officials for many years to pay for projects that benefit native wildlife and habitat. So when they approached him in 2008 with a project to improve the health of nearby streams and upgrade his farming operation, he was quick to get on board.
“They told me if I fenced off the creek they would install a water system,” Merkel said.
Like a lot of farmers, Merkel divides his pastures into paddocks—fenced-in areas that cattle graze for a few days or weeks before rotating to the next. The method distributes grazing and allows the grass to regenerate. But one area was always under stress. A branch of the Bourbeuse River runs through Merkel’s property and was the only source for water. That meant his cattle were constantly convening near the creek, leaving their waste and trampling the banks.
With the help of his local Conservation Department office, Merkel obtained a cost-share arrangement to pay for the construction of wells and pumps that made water available for livestock throughout the property. In exchange, he agreed to fence off the creek entirely.
“Any time you can concentrate those cows in a smaller area, they’re not disturbing the stream if they don’t have to get into it,” Merkel said. “I’ve seen the stream get clearer and the banks regenerate.”
Local and National Partnerships
Merkel’s efforts span beyond his own fence line. He has served for the past eight years on the six-member landowner committee that guides restoration efforts in the Lower Bourbeuse watershed, which spans Crawford, Gasconade and Franklin counties. With technical assistance from conservation staff, the committee helps landowners apply for funding to help build stream crossings and water systems through programs like the Fishers and Farmers Partnership.
Fishers and Farmers falls under the National Fish Habitat Action Plan—a large-scale